Sean // Taichi // Sept 2022
A couple of weeks ago, I was having a rough morning and running late for our Taichi class. Knowing Master Alex was already there, I notified him that I would be late and asked if he could go ahead and start the class. Much to my surprise, when I walked in, it was not a teacher in front of the group but my student Sean. Not wanting to interrupt the flow, I sat back and followed as Sean took us through the routine. Having been in a low state before joining, I was moved that he had taken the responsibility to lead the class and did so very naturally and with ease. This is one of the many reasons I feel Sean deserves recognition this month.
Sean is an exemplary student and has progressed exceptionally fast in his Taichi practice since joining us early this year. There are few that are as committed and consistent with their practice as he is. It is a rare occasion that he misses class and, on the contrary, is regularly very early just to squeeze in a little more practice. As a result, he has made it further in our Taichi curriculum than any student that I have taught since inheriting the school. Since joining our Taichi group, not only has he learned quickly but he has stepped up to helping others with less experience which, in turn, has been a huge help for me as well. He takes his lessons to heart and doing things well is important to him but no matter how strict he is with himself, he is never short of kindness, patience, and understanding with others. I deeply appreciate his motivation and devotion both to the art, as well as to the school, and I look forward to seeing where his journey forward leads!
(Imari) Please tell me about your martial arts background and how you ended up in Taichi
(Sean) My first martial arts experience was all the way back in college, I did kempo for about a year and I really enjoyed it. One of the reasons why I enjoyed it so much was there were a lot of kata, a lot of forms. That really appealed to me, it just kind of made sense. Then I joined the military, the army, and really didn’t have an opportunity to continue martial arts, we moved around so much.
(I) Was there any martial arts taught in the military?
(S) We had something called combatives but it was a lot of ground fighting and I don’t have the best knees. When we first started learning it, a couple of guys blew out their knees so I was kind of like “okay, we don’t wanna do this” and shied away from that. After a while, my daughter was finally born and we still moved around a lot but we got to the DC, my daughter was about 6 or 7 by that time, we discovered the Wushu Academy with Coach Pei and Coach Zhang. That was kind of a father-daughter experience and I discovered the forms were great and I loved the bo staff so I did that until I left in 2011. The army took us elsewhere and it kind of broke my martial arts training so I didn’t get back into it until we were in Germany. I wanted Rafferty to have the opportunity to at least experience it and there was a Wushu Academy in Stuttgart so he started doing it. They offered their version of Taichi which was a Tjoa family version, it was completely different. They used the adogo stick and I kind of enjoyed it but it was so regimented that perfection was step 1 and we did step 1 over and over again and it was just once a week. I really thrived when I went at least 3 times a week. At home it can be hard, you don’t always have space and it is inspiring to be in an actual place where people are practicing. It’s like I can’t do home gyms, I have to go to a gym where it triggers the working out.
(I) There’s a lot of us like that. It helps to have the right environment.
(S) After Stuttgart we moved to Cary and my wife found you guys. That was in the middle of the pandemic and was pretty crazy but pretty cool because you guys were doing it in the park. Rafferty seemed to really enjoy it, especially once we were able to actually meet in person. I considered doing wushu again but my son is pretty competitive and he was enjoying it so much that I didn’t want to sour him or make him feel like he was competing. I have a habit that, if I know something, I’ll try to relay it to him and since it is coming from me and not a master he’s less receptive, especially since i’m not flexible. After a year and a half I finally decided to do something for myself so I tried the Taichi and it’s been fantastic ever since. The forms just seem to make sense to me. Knowing that next move helps define the previous move for me. Your technique of instruction is much more helpful for me where we can actually get the whole form and then refine instead of being perfect.
(I) I can understand the teaching method but at the same time perfection is not my focus. Enjoyment, understanding, relaxation, and progress…these are more important to me.
(S) It was to a point where you couldn’t progress and that was what was really eating me in Germany but here, I’m going to continue, and I will make an unusual request because I don’t know if there are that many taichi staff forms…
(I) It is funny you say that because when you said you loved the staff I was actually just thinking that we could do a taichi staff form. I haven’t learned one myself but that would be an opportunity for me, as well, to experiment, also with more weapons in taichi than just straight sword. Totally doable!
(S) And I love helping out. I look forward to the future and being able to progress and then help the school. It has been fantastic. You’ve seen me when I come into class and sometimes I am kind of sour and there’s clouds above my head but, no exception, I am always in such a better place after I finish class and I really wanna thank you for that.
(I) Well I am grateful to you as well. So that leads into my next question: How has Taichi benefited your life? What is it about the art you think is particularly helpful?
(S) I think it plays into the way my brain works with the forms and that helps me incorporate good body position. Learning the forms helps me get into the right place and the right structure. The way I work, if my body is in the right place, my spirit is in a better place so it is all going towards that very peaceful, not even having to think about it, just do type of action. When I start doing the form, everything else just kind of washes away.
(I) It is like your focus is not on everything else.
(S) Yeah but it is not like a clenched focus. In the beginning sometimes I over analyze things and that kind of makes it jerky but once I get something, I think it really helps me focus on doing the moves. Taichi, it’s almost like zen. The doing…There’s not a disconnect between the thought and the action, there’s just both at the same time.
(I) And I think aside from the combative purpose, that is also a purpose. The mind-body connection, the mindfulness.
(S) I think I would like to explore the practical application as well.
(I) Yes, that’s on the list of things to explore!
(S) That was kind of a big step for me because I think I haven’t done a performance since grade school. I was in orchestra through middle school.
(I) Wow, well congratulations on your first performance in a long time. That was actually my next question. How did you feel about being in front of all those people? What do you think went well and what would you like to have done differently?
(S) Initially, when we were first doing it, I had the thoughts “I’ve never done anything like this on a stage before” and I wasn’t completely confident in the form, at least to be able to perform it but the more we practiced and especially once we got the music, I was able to translate the rhythms. At the very beginning I was just trying to do my best, and I was trying to help the others. In the original configuration I was in the back and when I suggested that I take point, that helped a lot so I could watch but also lead. Nydia was amazing and Master Alex was great, so that helped. It did put pressure on me but it gave me a focus because I needed to do the correct moves.
(I) When you’re in the lead it definitely does put that pressure on you to be at your best.
(S) So that helped me, that’s why I fussed over the different stances because I knew I had to be better to set an example so we’ll keep on working on that. But it felt good and going into the performance, I wasn’t quite as nervous as others but there was still nervousness. The day of, I just practiced. When I was in kempo, for one of my belt tests, I went to the beach a couple of weeks before and practiced, practiced, practiced. We came back and I did the test, I remember starting and I remember ending. It wasn’t quite that disconnect but I didn’t think anything. So during the performance when we ended a little early I was like “What did I miss?” but my brother had taken a video and I didn’t miss anything so it just flowed. I didn’t have to think, I just did.
(I) Do you think you’ll ever teach Rafferty what you’ve learned in Taichi?
(S) He’s a pretty strong willed kid. The way I try to help him train is he shows me what he can do and then I try it. He thinks Taichi is the old person’s art.
(I) Oh he has no idea
(S) But he has mentioned it a couple of times “Yeah, I can do taichi too”
(I) He hasn’t been brave enough to come to a class yet.
(S) Not with me in it yet. We’ve gotten a lot better, I’ve been able to talk to him about a few things in wushu and he’s been more receptive. Just me training here when he’s in class…last year that would not have been possible. I think as he grows in confidence in his wushu, I think walking alongside him, if he wants to come along. Unless I get to a point where I can maybe help you lead class further down the road.
(I) Have you ever competed? Would you ever like to compete?
I’ve never competed before. Rafferty competed and it was horrible. It was in Germany, with mostly German kids. They had a house competition. There was one girl who was in two competitions. She Rafferty had been training a partner form with the stick and his Master said they were awesome but they didn’t get an award at all so that really discouraged him. I was thrilled when he decided to come here because I was afraid that had totally turned him off. That was his only competition.
(I) And what about you, would you like to compete?
I think so, I like doing the form just for the form’s sake but the US Challenge is a competition but then there’s also seminars. But I think so, down the road.
(I) What goals do you have for this next year?
(S) I wanna learn a staff form, I want to be able to get closer to the pink lady.
(I) We all wanna get closer to her, it is the everlasting goal haha.
(S) My goals are really just to refine and improve the forms I have right now. And also be able to be available to help you out with people that might come in and begin, kind of be an assistant.
(I) Sounds good, and I would like that as well 🙂 Last question: What advice do you have for newcomers to the art?
(S) Be patient. I have some of a background, especially in forms. If you don’t have a background, it can be very overwhelming but if you’re patient and take it slow, the benefits of the form just go throughout your entire life.
(I) The quote “Patience is a virtue”…the older I get the more I find it is so infinitely true.
(S) Yeah, the problem is that the older you get the less time you have to be patient.
(I) haha, yes but (hopefully) you do develop more patience.
(S) And I think one thing Taichi has taught me is the “now”, being here. The more comfortable I am at 24 or the sword, I’m not thinking about the next step. I’m just thinking about what I’m doing right now, so I think that really helps. Especially in America, we’re always thinking about the future or the past and we don’t do the “now”. We should do the “now” well. It’s all we have.
(I) Exactly. This has been a great chat, thank you Sean!
(S) Thank you!